Neither, one feels, would he have been able to resist the philosophical implications of GNR’s always-in-the-making, eternally deferred, millions-down-the-drain album Chinese Democracy. What a title. What a concept. A white whale, a black box, a thing into which everything goes, every motive and idea and association, and nothing comes out. It should enter the language immediately: “Ah, Helga. (Sigh) She was my Chinese Democracy.”
Axl has been working on this bastard since 1996, hiring and firing like a schizoid plutocrat; by 1999 he claimed to have demo’d nearly 70 new songs, some of which were rather “advanced” in their approach. The year 2000 found him ordering a wood-and-wire chicken coop to be built in the studio for his post-Slash guitarist Buckethead, who wears a KFC bucket on his head and had told Axl that he would be “more comfortable working inside a chicken coop.” In 2002, a song called “Rhiad and the Bedouins” was premiered at the Belgian Pukkelpop festival, although no one could really hear it. By this time, Axl was saying that he had the follow-up to Chinese Democracy already written . . . Buckethead quit in 2004, and shortly thereafter GNR’s label, Interscope — in a fit of wishful thinking — announced that ChineseDemocracy would be in stores by the end of the year. Never happened.
Is there a way out of this Eco-esque labyrinth? Will the album ever be complete, or releasable? Not until the people of China have a democratically elected government. And perhaps not even then.
Whims of desire
Another contemporary figure crying out for the Goldman touch is soul man/lubricant R. Kelly, whose unauthorized biography Your Body’s Calling Me: The Life and Times of “Robert” R. Kelly — Music, Love, Sex & Money, by Jake Brown, was published in 2004. Brown has some interesting, unauthorized-style touches — one of Kelly’s non-sexual friendships is described as “plutonic” — but nothing can obscure the divine comedy at the heart of the book: the struggle in R.’s soul between God and sex, or at least the kind of sex that R. likes. He believes he can fly, he starts every day with a prayer, but in 2002 he was charged with 14 counts of child pornography. The trial is scheduled for May of this year.
“Despite how small his star may fade,” concludes Brown, on a note of consolation, “he does shine bright and divine on millions of lives that otherwise would have had no one to inspire or remind them that, at heart, we are all God’s children.” On second thought, the proper redactor of the R. Kelly story might not be Goldman but rather Nick Tosches, whose 1982 Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story reads like a bulletin from the brink of damnation: “The booze and the pills stirred the hell within him and made him to utter hideous peals. At times he withdrew into his own shadow, brooding upon all manner of things — abominable, unutterable, and worse. At times he stalked and ranted in foul omnipotence, commanding those about him as Belial his minions.” Remember: bring God into your unauthorized bio, and you’ll be bringing in His old buddy the Devil, too.